Radio Jesus

My dear friend John Hardt just released a new track for which I wrote the lyrics (and he cleaned them up to fit). He said “I want to write an Oasis song called ‘Radio Jesus.'” I think we pulled it off.

The Not So Secret Hierarchy of Rejection Letters

If you’ve been submitting stories or poems to journals for more than a day or two, you’ve probably seen something like this:

Dear Writer,

Unfortunately, the work you submitted was not the right fit for us. Best luck placing it elsewhere.

Best Wishes,

The Editors

It’s impersonal, not exactly brusk, but certainly right to the point. The good thing about these kinds of responses is that you know right away that the good folks at that prestige mag aren’t writing about your Pushcart nomination.

A week or two ago, the writing community on twitter had a laugh (and a justifiable “ew, David,”) about a round of rejection emails that opened with the word “Congratulations.” I think the rest of the email said something like “this piece wasn’t for us, but congratulations on being invited to submit to our next contest” or something.

I mean, that’s a pretty gross move.

If you’re new to all of this, I give you the Not So Secret Hierarchy of Rejection Letters.

1: The standard form letter like the one seen above.  Not very gratifying, but don’t take it personally.  You’re busy, they’re busy, and that’s just how it goes.


2: The form letter with your name and the title of your piece.  Pretty standard practice.  I think I get more rejections with this level of personalization than without.


3: The personalized rejection letter with a personal note telling you how much they liked your story, even though it’s not for them, and encouraging you to send them more. In the super-competitive and completely subjective literary world, this can feel almost as good as an acceptance.  When you’re at this point with a specific piece or a specific market, you know that the editors really looked hard at your piece, thought about it, and saw enough promise (or whatever they look for) to personally encourage you as a writer.  No one owes you that, so when you get it, it’s a good thing.  Follow up with a thank you.

The most important thing to remember?  We’re talking about subjective responses to art.  You will “fail” often, especially in the beginning.  The thing is persistence (and very often, revision).

Metaphorically Speaking

On average, how many metaphors do human beings use in the course of daily speech? It’s a lot more than you probably think.

Skip the next section to get right to the answer. Read through if you’re interested in how I came upon the figure. (It has to do with New Testament Greek and various interpretations of what the Apostle Paul has to say about an issue in the early church in Corinth regarding prostitution. I should note: by no means do I wish to add to the demonization of sex workers. Rendered in English, the language of the passage in question, which I do not quote below, requires, I think, a trigger warning. With that said, there are important contextual and historic details that do not make it into “plain English.” In short, Paul seems concerned with Christians engaging in pagan rites through what as known as temple prostitution.)

*

I was doing some reading on the metaphorical linguistics of the Apostle Paul, chasing a hunch that what he has to say about prostitution in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 may be metaphorical, or, at the very least, practical in ways that have nothing to do with sex work. What if, for example, evangelical and fundamentalist Christians wed to Donald Trump considered the possibility that they were engaged idolatry? Certainly, that’s not a new charge. But passages like this excerpt from Psalm 146 haven’t seem to taken hold:

Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord, my soul.

I will praise the Lord all my life;
    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;

We know a thing or two about the ways some evangelicals and fundamentalists, when convenient, fixate on sex. What if the real sin is joining yourself (and by extension, in Paul’s thinking, joining Christ) to the bacchanal of hatred, racism, carnage, and terror that was January 6? If a certain set of self-identifying “conservative Christians” yawn away the charges of idolatry, maybe something more scandalous will be more convicting.

Likely not, but that’s how I got to the primary source for today’s literary reflection. I’ve talked before about dying metaphors (it’s a relatively popular post here, almost up there with no, Mad World is not by REM) and again here and here.

*

It turns out that we use a lot of metaphors.

(Citations are at the end of this post).

So I knew all about dying metaphors, but I had never heard of frozen metaphors (given the context, the term brought to mind old jokes about Calvinists). There seems to be some conflation, at least on Wikipedia, between frozen and dead metaphors. Frozen metaphors seem to have gone more fully and more finally through the process of literalization. I had never really thought of “table leg” as a metaphor of any kind, or even a turn of phrase. I have always thought of it as the literal object. What else would you call the leg of a table, anyway? Was there some point in the history of English language where “hands of the clock” was considered a poetic expression? When we think of metaphors, it’s usually in the context of literature, polemics, propaganda. Turns out they’re right in front of us in the every day use of things we take for granted.

In the end, of course, we might admit that because we can only know objects through our senses (Kant, and others), every single one of our experiences is a kind of metaphor. In that case, to use another, Gibbs is probably low-balling.

This footnote is from Wanamaker, Charles A. “METAPHOR AND MORALITY: EXAMPLES OF PAUL’S MORAL THINKING IN 1 CORINTHIANS 1-5.” Neotestamentica, vol. 39, no. 2, 2005, pp. 409–433. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43048553. Accessed 12 Jan. 2021; the original Gibbs paper is here.

Personal (Privilege)

It feels weird to tweet and write and talk about fiction and poetry and pretty much everything right now.

Thinking about what makes “right now” different from “last week” makes me realize again that the mere fact that I’m not constantly pushing uphill against systemic, entrenched hatreds and injustices means I’m already privileged. It means that the way I’m able to move in the world is also one of the constant calls lulling me to forgetfulness and ignorance of this fact.

I don’t come here to post answers or suppose that I have them. I come here thinking out loud. Even that’s a privilege.

Broken Frames, Dim Lenses

Burger King is going back to its former logo. Smart branding move for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is the chain’s need to keep differentiating itself from industry leader McDonald’s and perpetual internet-winner Wendy’s.

Here’s what I think is interesting. My kids, who were born well after Burger King dropped its classic branding, have always thought the 1999-2020 BK logo looked like a frying pan full of eggs.

They’re absolutely right. I’d never seen it because I knew what the logo was supposed to be.

Context really matters.

Yes, this is a logo for a giant corporation that sells mostly shitty food, but it’s a good reminder for artists, writers…anyone who is trying to communicate something to someone else.

Is what I have to say clear? Is what I have to say true? How do I know? What contexts have I assumed are understood, shared, taken for granted? What social constructs have I mistaken for objective frames and lenses?

On one hand, “perception is reality” can be a lazy excuse for all kinds of willful ignorance. On the other hand, if the things we have to say matter, it matters enough to do the best we can with them. Perhaps more to the point: we don’t know what we don’t know until we make the decision to learn about the world beyond our native settings.

Would you believe I’d never heard of James Baldwin before college? It’s true, and I went to well-funded public schools (that also happened to be predominantly white, and by a lot). I don’t think we were asked to read anything by Black writers except for (maybe) The Color Purple and a few lines of Langston Hughes. Worse: school kids in the 80s and 90s, at least in my experience, were meant to intuit that anything resembling racial injustice had been conquered by 1970. That’s probably something most of the adults in our lives wanted to believe themselves.

It’s been a long time since I was in school. I don’t know if we do a better job now or not. I do know that budgets in struggling districts continue to be slashed, that music programs are cut, gym programs are cut, the school district I went to is richer now, than ever, and the city schools a mile away have a fraction of those resources. I know that conservatives like to say that in America, we’re granted equal opportunity, not equal outcomes. I know that only half of that statement is true.

I wish I could say that the events of January 6 seemed surreal to me. Sadly, they were predictable (and predicted). What maybe does feel surreal: trying to go about my normal course of business in this moment. Nothing I do seems serious enough, almost everything I do seems very trivial. And I’m a person who benefits from a great deal of privilege. Maybe you are, too. If so, think about your frames and lenses. Think about the fact that there are many things we’re just not seeing. Many points of reference and perspectives we don’t have. Think about how we were taught to take up space, demand attention; think about how the insurrectionists were treated and how they would have been treated had they been mostly brown or Black.

I’m not saying Burger King’s branding language is some kind of metaphor. But there are an effing lot of Burger Kings. There are an effing lot of us (myself included) who need to unlearn an awful lot of shit.